September 17, 2018
San Ignacio, Belize
There are a lot of perks to having good friends that are chefs.
For example, they are always trying out new culinary delicacies and you get to be their guinea pig. They know everything about the best local eateries, as well as where to find the best, or hard-to-find ingredients, for anything you might want to whip up yourself. Their kitchens are well equipped and super clean. Their passion for food and cooking fills you with awe, and you never, ever want to turn down an invitation to eat at their homes. Ever!
When they ask you over for dinner you never ask, “What are you having?” but rather reply with, “I’m on my way!!!” Anything they make will be scrumptious!
One of the coolest things about traveling to different countries is experiencing the unique foods of each locale. And even better, when you are in a new place and you find a new friend that is also a former professional chef and professor of culinary arts, well, that makes you one lucky foodie! Such was our case when we met Chef Rick and his wife Cheri, here in Belize!
I’ve heard it said that most great chefs grew up around great cooks. Such was the case with Chef Rick. Born and raised in North Dakota, Chef Rick was surrounded by great food and a family tradition of cooking. I’ve never been to North Dakota, but I know it’s cold, real cold. So a nice indoor activity, in a cozy warm kitchen makes a lot of sense to me.
Chef Rick, after a tour as a Navy Corpsman in Viet Nam, opted for a “softer” career choice. So, relieved of military duty, he signed up for culinary school. As a chef, he worked at several prestigious eateries such as, San Diego Seaworld’s Atlantis Restaurant, Minnesota’s Breezy Point Resort and the Renaissance in Alexandria, Virginia.
Rick was good, really good, and of course his dream was to own his own restaurant. For six years he was the chef for San Francisco’s Original Joe’s, a boutique bistro serving local favorites like hangtown fry and oysters. With this success under his belt, Rick then built the restaurant of his dreams. The Loon’s Nest was situated on 1.5 acres right smack dab in the center of California’s wine country.
It was because of this success that a local college recruited Chef Rick to teach at their newly opened culinary school. Within time, he became a full-time professor for the school and eventually became the head of it.
We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have hooked up with this incredibly talented food artist, here in Belize.
So when I asked Chef Rick to help me out with some ideas for Belizean recipes, I guess it was a lot like asking Plácido Domingo to join me in a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Not only did he make me feel like I too could be a chef, but he created some of the best food I’ve ever had, in any country. He graciously invited me into his kitchen and allowed me to watch, learn and then chow down on three extraordinary dishes. The recipes for each are included in our new Recipes section and the links are below.
We have found that, of all the meats, Belizeans do chicken the best, making it a staple for most of their dishes. Most local chicken is raised to precipitate a healthy diet, free of hormones, colorants and preservatives. You can definitely taste the difference.
I love this recipe because it’s fast, easy and oh so yummy!
Curry Chicken Recipe
Since I was a little girl I’ve had a “thing” for coconut. I love it so much that Mounds (whether I feel like a “nut” or not) has always been my favorite candy bar.
We were up to our earlobes in mangos when we were in Puerto Rico last year, and I, several times, made myself nearly sick from pigging out on them. I love ‘em.
So when Chef Rick told me he was making Coconut Chicken with Mango Salsa, I had to check myself, so as not to drool all over my shirt.
My oh my, did he deliver on this scrumptious dish. Here’s the recipe:
Coconut Chicken on Mango Salsa
The limes here in Belize are not like the limes we could find in Texas. These are sweeter and much juicier. So when Chef Rick announced he was making Belizean Lime Crème Brulee, well I knew it was going to be something magnificent. On the day that Chef Rick cooked for me, I took plates of the two chicken dishes home to John. As far as the Crème Brulee, I downed it all and almost licked the bowl. John, I love you honey, but it was Crème Brulee…
Here’s the recipe for this brilliant dessert:
Belizean Lime Crème Brulee Recipe
I would be remiss not to mention that Rick and Cheri are not only great food artists, but also master artisans who have created some phenomenal, unique sculpture pieces. So when you visit them, not only are you fed like a prince or princess, but their house provides a lot of eye candy. Way, way cool stuff.
Frankly, cooking never has been a passion for me. I’m definitely not a chef, and really not even all that great a cook, except for cupcakes and pie, but I left Chef Rick’s kitchen feeling like I might actually be able to create a few culinary masterpieces myself. He inspired me. I even watched a show on the Food Network yesterday. Go figure.
I won’t say my approach to cooking has completely flipped, but with the help of Chef Rick it has become more of a choice rather than a chore. When I find myself whining internally about having to cook, I think WWCRM (What Would Chef Rick Make) and I grin and think, “Suck it up, Buttercup. You can do this.”
1 boneless chicken breast (cut into 1/4″ strips)
1 bag shredded coconut
butter for frying
1 cup chopped mango
1/4 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 Tbsp hot peppers (chopped)
Juice of one lime
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1/8 cup pomegranate juice
1 lb chicken breast cut into chunks
1 eggplant chopped into 1/2 cubes
1 yellow bell pepper chopped
4 green onions chopped
2 tomatoes chopped
8 garlic cloves chopped
2 cans coconut milk
6 lime leaves
6 sprigs of lemon grass
1/8 cup fish sauce
2 Tbsp curry or to taste